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Striking a balance

Craig Oliver Craig Oliver | 12:05 UK time, Thursday, 25 January 2007

BBC Ten O'Clock News logoThere have been concerns that Egyptian police used torture for years - but it has always been hard to prove. Our reporter in the country obtained graphic mobile phone pictures putting it beyond doubt. The most disturbing were pictures of a man naked from the waist down - his legs lifted in the air while he was sodomised with a pole. The camera zoomed in on his face, contorted in agony. Many found his screams the most disturbing aspect. To add to the seriousness of the issue, the British government is considering sending prisoners back to Egypt.

We thought long and hard about what Ian Pannell could show in his report (which you can watch here). We decided to show a few seconds of the man's face, removing the soundtrack of screams, and then freezing the picture as we explained the rest, which was too disturbing to show. There was a warning in the studio introduction, and Ian's commentary made clear what was coming. I believe we struck a balance between the need to show the horror of what happened, with concerns about exposing the audience to graphic images.


  • 1.
  • At 02:45 PM on 25 Jan 2007,
  • PeeVeeAh wrote:

No, No, NO!

You cannot justify this as open viewing material - just because it happened!

I won't seek to find any visual extracts of this story - your textual precis painted well enough! It allegedly happened and it is barbaric! Civilisation deplores barbarism by definition, surely. Don't you think that by showing, visually - even allusions to the crime-against-humanity - that you are a part of the barbarity of the abuse? Apparently not - unless you hadn't thought in that frame of reference?

What about youngsters seeing - or even hearing about - this crime? There is no such thing as a watershed on the internet, or 'on demand' timeshifting, so are we expected to parental lock all media that was once governed by broadcasting standards of common decency? Just because it's in the public domain, does not mean it's in the public interest!

I accept that the atrocity happened: Am I any more likely to be empowered by this information, or will I become xenophobic to the big bad world out there?

Head-in-the-sand - maybe, but few of the world's ills are within my corrective action plan sphere-of-influence and I expect those who are 'in office' to bring about corrective action. So - 'no' we don't need to know graphic detail, just that it's been fixed, maybe?

  • 2.
  • At 05:34 PM on 25 Jan 2007,
  • Ken wrote:

I don’t understand where you got the idea from to poke around other countries in this way. What Egypt does internally is Egypt’s business.

  • 3.
  • At 05:58 PM on 25 Jan 2007,
  • shakil wrote:

Ofcourse we need to see the crimes against humanity that go on around the world words are not enough. The reason why i say this is the shock value it gives its far more powerful then words alone, and only then people will react to these stories and try to make a change for the better.

  • 4.
  • At 10:12 PM on 25 Jan 2007,
  • Marc Burton wrote:

I think it is fantastic that you have shown this article. This is not because I actually enjoyed watching it, but I appreciate that some people may wish to actually see it to prove to themselves that this actually goes on. I much prefer to have the oppurtunity to choose to watch what i want to and not have the BBC or anybody else pick what I am allowed to watch and what I am not.

Thanks BBC good job

  • 5.
  • At 11:24 PM on 25 Jan 2007,
  • Charlene wrote:

I strongly disagree with the first commenter. This is the kind of act that absolutely MUST be shown, if only in part. It's very easy to live in a rose-coloured-glasses world and assume that this kind of thing doesn't go on, but that's just self-delusion. When atrocities take place they MUST be shown. Torturers MUST be uncovered and yes, that does mean publicly exposing them.

This is one of the most important reasons for a free press: to uncover atrocities such as this and to bring them to light. It's true that 50 years ago footage of this nature wouldn't be shown, but perhaps that's why so many have a ridiculously rosy view of the past. No, things were not better back then. People were not better. Human nature is human nature. But the media was cajoled and pressured into not showing horrors like this, and all too often the perpetrators got away.

Don't be like the mealy-mouthed Americans and sacrifice truth in order to (theoretically) protect the supposedly innocent. Nobody is served through self-censorship except the smug and self-satisfied who want to pretend that this kind of evil doesn't occur.

  • 6.
  • At 09:07 AM on 26 Jan 2007,
  • Sam wrote:

PeeVeeAh #1

No, the BBC was absolutely right to show this, the British and the Americans send people to egypt so this is a very important story, its about informing the electorate and as for children they see all sorts of terrible things going on in the world on the 6 o clock news.

You don't like it? Don't watch it but don't try and censor what i see.

  • 7.
  • At 09:42 AM on 26 Jan 2007,
  • Katie wrote:

This kind of thing is all too common and the world needs to know about it. The description, while obviously very distressing, may not be enough to encourage people to take action against this behaviour. I think on this occasion you made the right call. I only hope that any outrage is directed at the Egyptian police, rather than the BBC editorial team.

  • 8.
  • At 10:00 AM on 26 Jan 2007,
  • Tamsin wrote:

I totally disagree with the display of the extremely disturbing pictures displayed on the news.

The story was disturbing enough without the graphic images. We are cabable of understanding and believing a story without seeing it.

Images like this make the behaviour seem more acceptable, and simply another part of society, rather than the abhorrent deviancy which it is.

I am sure there are a small minority of people who would not view the image with disgust but be stimulated in some way. However small this minority, there is no excuse for making the images available.

Furthermore, I believe you have added to the barbaric treatment of the man by showing his face to the world; surely he has already lost enough dignity.

I think the increase in graphic images of people in distress or killed in conflict and so on, on the news is a sad reflection of obsession with sensationalism, and represents a lack of respect for individual humans, and I would hope that the BBC could reverse this trend.

  • 9.
  • At 01:42 PM on 26 Jan 2007,
  • seaneeboy wrote:

Good for the beeb to bring this to a wider audience. By dealing with it responsibly (and not focussing on the gruesomly sensationalist) it's brought the shocking practice to light - and making people notice.

If anything I would have preferred a black bar across his eyes to protect his identity, however we can hope his promotion to global identity can only help put an end to the suffering he and other like him have to endure.

The BBC was 100% right to show this report and I feel you judged what parts to show well.

I was watching on Wednesday night and the whole room fell silent when the report came on. It was seared into our minds.

This is nothing about sensationalism - it's about (like a previous poster said) uncovering and exposing evils.

Tamsin said the story was "disturbing enough without the graphic images"..yes, but it was also easily forgettable - and we mustn't forget that torture still happens in a country that 700,000 of us choose to visit every year.

  • 11.
  • At 04:23 PM on 26 Jan 2007,
  • PeeVeeAh wrote:

#1 - #10:

Talk about dianetric views!

None of the pro-show-everything contingent attempt to reconcile impact on children.

However, the bigger concern I have is that those that would have all instances of atrocities shown, seem to think it a bit like crossing your fingers to ward off evil! I'm not sure who's head is in the sand: Mine for not appreciating the depiction and mechanism of statutory rape - in easy view of minors; or the apparent majority(!) who feel that barbarism will cease just because it's outed! It's not something that individuals can do anything about - other than by boycotting purchase of goods and services, perhaps. But I'm not sure that some folk would impose that sanction if it curtailed their personal freedom.

Maybe it's an intellect thing: I can interpret situations without having every view at every angle. Evil people have always existed. The IT revolution in technologies mean we can know more instances - near-instantly - than ever before. But does it benefit the humane majority? Does it benefit the victims if I vomit my dinner onto the carpet? The 'Powers-that-Be' - those that can bring about change must see it all! It must stop. it will not stop just because x-million armchair surfers see it!

  • 12.
  • At 10:07 PM on 26 Jan 2007,
  • Sally wrote:

If a torture victim survives, he or she knows that every neighbor forevermore might see BBC's video, quite possibly in the calculated guise of "understanding" better. Video can be used for decades to keep a whole community trapped, destroying chances to develop identities free of cruel reminders.

It's libel, not news, if security cams in London record real rapes and broadcasters provide access. Rich celebrities, or defenseless poor, don't make news media such gleeful servants of all kinds of tormentors. To distribute unspeakable horror to children worldwide compounds crimes while never teaching a decent standard for protecting privacy.

  • 13.
  • At 10:21 AM on 27 Jan 2007,
  • anon wrote:

To steal a line used by opponents of the Iraq war (including the BBC) - it's a sovereign country so why are you interfering in their affairs, if the people wanted to rise up they would.

  • 14.
  • At 03:29 PM on 27 Jan 2007,
  • pete cook wrote:

I was disturbed deeply by this report and so should we all be. You treated it with just the correct 'tone'. We need to know. Isn't this where the Blair's sometimes grab some winter sun? Disgraceful.

  • 15.
  • At 04:01 PM on 27 Jan 2007,
  • HA wrote:

I think you managed to strike the right balance. As we go about our lives in comfort it is easy to forget what else is happening in the world.
The thing I value about the BBC is it's role in presenting an impartial news, and searching for truth.
And when I feel that I don't want to see and hear things that might disturb me (for example when my partner was posted in Iraq), I don't watch and listen to the news. Thank goodness I have that choice.

  • 16.
  • At 05:05 PM on 27 Jan 2007,
  • asuncion wrote:

It is easy to condemn BBC for showing such disturbing views--but it is also easy to forget why these ruthless abuses take place. Visual images should awake our conscience and drive us to elect governments that will not engage in these practices. This is not fantasy--this is real andit is happening--in the name of freedom!

  • 17.
  • At 06:36 AM on 29 Jan 2007,
  • chiz wrote:

If its OK to show pictures of abuse at Abu Ghraib then it should be OK to show this pictures of this. One of the lessons of the Abu Ghraib affair is that merely telling people that that sort of stuff goes on in other countries in the region as well doesn't have the same sort of impact as showing pictures.

  • 18.
  • At 11:12 AM on 30 Jan 2007,
  • nehad ismail wrote:

Torture, mistreatment and abuse of prisoners must be exposed regardless where it has taken place.

Torture is a common practice in the Middle East, The worst perpetrators are Syria, Iraq (during the Saddam Regime and now), Israel and Egypt.

Torture needs not be physical. Mental and psychological torture are just as bad and this is happenning in Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib.

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